With just under two weeks to go, spring training hasn't solved any ongoing Cubs questions except one: Mike Quade is really, truly, firmly in charge.
For those who thought the 24-13 finish in 2010 was a mere mirage onto which Quade luckily glommed and upset the favored Ryne Sandberg for the manager's job, they have proof in the early-on Carlos Silva-Aramis Ramirez dugout tiff. Quade quickly handled that dustup and an early spate of errors, and there have been no carry-overs. A manager need not be a screamer, overturning the post-game spread, to get a handle on his team.
"I've dealt with situations like this, hell, a dozen times at least over the years managing where players get upset, where there's frustration wih the ballclub," Quade said as he concluded one long day at HoHoKam Park. "To me it's just another day and it's just the way it goes. If things get completely out of hand in my world, then it can become a different deal."
Spring training has proved Quade is a hands-on manager, and not just in team deportment. He'd throw batting practice, as in his coaching days, if he didn't have so much on his plate. Predecessor Lou Piniella liked to delegate to his coaches -- perhaps too much so. Piniella seemed like a chairman of the board. Cynics will change board to "bored." However the Cubs finish, they won't be dragging their tails under workaholic Quade. On the day of the above comments, he was on the phone home from his office at 6:30 p.m. local time -- 12 hours after he reported to the ballpark. He has very little spare time in Arizona -- he goes home, eats dinner and then goes to bed.
In relation to the Silva-Ramirez incident, Quade discovered he's got two more team leaders to take the load off Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood. Center fielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Carlos Pena helped direct a players' meeting to get priorities straight. Byrd in particular seems ready to step up and be a force in the clubhouse. A hot spring training and a few less pounds will help his credentials should he also lead by example on the field. Byrd will have hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo as a personal burr under his saddle. Jaramillo said despite Byrd's All-Star status in 2010, he did not have a particularly good season at the plate, with more work to do in the cage. He expects a return to Byrd's 2009 Texas Rangers numbers -- if not better.
Unfortunately, Quade won't make final decisions on the starting rotation until the last possible moment in the upcoming week. Carlos Silva's heavy contract is the only factor keeping him in contention for the final spot after Randy Wells' fine spring has nailed down the No. 4 job. Andrew Cashner, who has been quietly tutored by Greg Maddux on top of counseling from childhood idol Wood, has shown enough to claim the final spot. Is Cashner's continued development worth a buyout of Silva's deal? Your ball and your call, Tom Ricketts.
Alfonso Soriano's good spring hints at a comeback after two semi-lost seasons. The danger here is hot hitting in the 85 - to 90-degree Arizona sunshine tends to cool rapidly transitioning to the climate shock of 40-degree Chicago Aprils.
Meanwhile, camp won't last long enough to solve nagging Cubs problems. Kosuke Fukudome, whom Quade favored as his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers, was off to a slow start. And Blake DeWitt's shaky fielding makes second a question mark going into the season.
But they wouldn't be the Cubs without a few holes going into the season. Fortunately, one won't be where the manager stands in the dugout.